1b. My bench is London. Hyde Park. Hyde Park is also the setting of something else, some other piece, called “Running London,” which I will write later. Or not. Most things are unwritten, how could it not be so? For every final something, there exist many unwritten drafts in the nothing.
2. My 2 characters soon to arrive on my park bench in my imagination’s London, are the “Borges” of this story’s title and the persona “Marshall Mathers”—which is a persona created by another persona “Eminem.” Both were created by the real Mr. Mathers. But the real Mathers no more appears in this story than does the real Jorge Luis Borges. To steal 2 fictional constructs from their authors and sit them side by side has got to be—at least—considered a cheap trick, a meaningless stunt, or some third pejorative thing. It isn’t. It’s a reasonable method to examine the parallel conceits of two very different artists—who could not be more different at a glance—who certainly never heard of each other, and could scarcely be less interested in this exercise, each other, or yo, even if they had done.
3. That bit about “Running London” above? A lie. The other story I intend to write will be called “Under London” and my disguising the title somewhat was an attempt to hold something back, to preserve some creative magma for a later attempt at something. Never do this, never hold anything back, not if you’re me anyway, and haven’t got much to work with right now, let alone in a neutrino-splitting cat-duplicating theoretical future. But where was I?
2. (cont.) In fact the conceit of putting these two brilliantly wrought personas of their respective creators together on a park bench ala Borges’ own emblematic work “Borges y Yo” is so apt, I’m sure someone has thought of it before. If anyone has acted on this thought, I and my enterprise here are fucked.
6a. A few other odds and ends. MS Word is making my life hell as it tries to help—deciding where my indents will be, thinking I am writing an outline because of the numbered paragraphs. I’m taking the numbered paragraph style from Delany, Samuel R. because I like it, it seems the right method to order these points I must make in order to communicate to the reader this episode to the best of my ability. It is, like any matter of style, a guess. When you encounter something funky in a story, you’ve got choices, one choice is to go with it—this is true of the writer as well as the reader.
6b. It is autumn, both in the world and in the false world of this episode I relate. The leaves in Hyde Park have turned, but not fallen. The sky is colorless. Borges in this story is old. Marshall Mathers in this story is young. Though the real Mathers is older now, I cannot imagine Eminem old, and though the world knows the young Borges, it’s the elderly, famoso figure I first met and hold forever in my mind; the man surprised to be famous: a poet, a former librarian, who in his sixties returns to the short story after decades of absence. He returns stronger, braver. Gone are the affectations of style, the showy absurdities in plot and theme. He simply tells it now: an old man named Borges sits on a park bench and, through the course of a conversation, discovers the young man sitting next to him is himself, many years earlier. Or perhaps he is the young Borges sitting next to an older self. He does not know which of him writes this tale and he tells us this, and then he is done.
7a. Today however, this autumn day, Borges is not in one of his stories, so he does not meet himself. Today he meets “Marshall Mathers”, who is not in Detroit, as he and his creator Marshall-who-is-also-Eminem would have expected. Eminem might be found in London, indeed any city in the world; he is famous everywhere, and rap is loved everywhere. Well, you might not find Eminem in Tehran. But you could certainly overhear his music anywhere—even Tehran—and no one should seriously doubt it.
7b. Eminem would be stunned to see “Marshall” outside Detroit, outside the clubs, the ugly streets, the shitty trailer parks of his childhood. He created “Marshall” to live in those core memories. Eminem takes on the world—the temptations and ridicule necessary to navigate the past—if one is to thrive in, not be crushed by, it. The world is an arena, the pop world, the world of fame—any world is an arena. An arena is where contests are held, and there is always one more contest. No matter how many you can win, there will always be one more, and nobody lasts forever. Eminem wants to keep “Marshall” safe from all that. “Marshall” is his innocence, and as long as he has “Marshall” he can’t completely lose his self.
8. Borges would like those concepts, and his ears would particularly prick up at the idea of the world as an arena. Or the world as any one thing, or anything as something else. A labyrinth, a rose, a tome in old Norse, they are each the world. The world itself is only that idea that is at once too great and to simple to hold in the mind by any method but metaphor. In one thing, everything. In everything, one thing.
9. “Borges” sits down at one end of the bench, and draws his wool lapels close. He wears a fine topcoat. The wool is Argentinean, but the workmanship is European; they do not exist without each other, and “Borges” contemplates that as a metaphor for his own career. He may use the thought sometime. Probably not, because there are better ones to devise.
10. “Marshall” sits down at the other end of the bench. He re-zips his coat to the top, folds his arms and pleasantly squeezes some of the air out of the puffy down. To Borges, Marshall —with his northern skin, his head of bleached hair poking forth from a white snowball of a coat—looks like an apparition, a phantasm of Wells perhaps, and as agreeably absurd. No. The ghost beside him evokes a mirth not often found in the works of those romanticists such as Wells or Verne whose chief literary passion lies in imagineering the future.
11. To Marshall, Borges looks like something out of another kind of fiction, an old movie on TNT maybe,—a guy like the guys who bankrolled Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. He wonders if the guy is rich. He has a cane. Rich people in movies carry canes. Then again, he is old. Maybe he needs the cane to walk. A cane is better than a walker. You see those old ladies, with their aluminum walkers, bus change clinking back and forth in the tray, and the walker’s legs taped up where the rubber footpads have cracked. Where’s the dignity in that? The old guy has dignity. How will I walk when I’m that age? Will I even get to that age? Will some kid see me and will I look like something in an old movie to him? That’s what I’ll be someday, an old man from an old movie—and that’s only if I’m lucky. Which I don’t expect to be. Marshall looks at Borges long and hard while he thinks this.
12. Borges looks back at Marshall, into the ice blue eyes,* surely the eyes of a poet of the Eddas would have been this blue, this clear. To be young again. But was I ever? What if I were this young man’s age today, would I find myself costumed as he is? If my world were not one of books, not one of my grandfather’s—the great general’s—history and legend. Not one of dusty southern twilights and Viennese snowfalls infinitely intermingling in memory. What if I were sneakers and televisions; internets and absent fathers? Would I then be Borges still? Would I then be me? Or is Borges something else? Something other than his memory. I have never believed that, yet I have always been a believer in the imagination, though a poor practitioner. If I, buy some alchemy – found myself compelled to trade places with this young man for one instant—would I, for that instant, retain semblance of myself? If I looked out at Borges from Nordic eyes, who would I see? A fellow—kinsman of sort—or a creature so alien as to defy comprehension?
13. And Marshall breaks the gaze in an instant, because he knows he and the old man are holding it a little. He knows in a flash they are thinking the same thought: who the fuck are you supposed to be anyway?
14. And they laugh. At first they laugh because of the awkwardness of the moment, and then they laugh at themselves for laughing and being embarrassed over nothing. And then they laugh because the other is laughing, and they laugh because it is truly singular to know two are thinking the same thought at the same time, and they look back at their own selves from the alien’s perspective.
15. As if in a mirror, they stop laughing and gulp and looking into the middle distance, still believing they are thinking the same thing, but how can either man know?
16. A few leaves fall as they sit there, contemplating that understanding—always stunning, no matter how often it is fleetingly grasped—that other people exist, independent of one’s self, going on and on, their own memories like fingers reaching out to their own pasts, their own dreams like fingers pulling their own futures near, all independent in one way, yet still capable of intersecting, winding around, turning, changing each other, like some (why not say it again, it is too late to make a pretense of originality now) like some labyrinth—but a living one; a labyrinth that builds itself.
17. “I should get back,” says Marshall, the first words spoken between the two men in an exchange, that after all, only lasted a moment, an exchange that, even as incidental encounters go, could fairly be argued never to have happened at all. Especially since neither man will permit himself to discuss it. Each man values his world of thoughts so highly that neither presumes to invade the world of the other. Instead, Marshall will want to find a place and a pen to write lyrics. Borges will want to find a place and a pen to write his own lines.
18. “I must go, as well.” says Borges.
19. The young man extends his hand and they shake, though the grip is different, a manner of handshake unknown to Borges, not at all difficult to learn, and much less formal somehow. “Good luck,” says Borges turned toward the fork in the path. And Marshall takes the other way, but not before saying, “Stay real.”
20. Borges contemplates the encounter, and every encounter he has had, and will have, living over and over again in the lines of his poems, the leaves of his books, the memories of a few friends, and (dare an old poet hope?) a few too-kind admirers.
21. Stay real. Interesting advice, he thinks with a smile.
22. I wonder … is it achievable?
24. Hyde Park begins to dissolve behind our characters retreating backs. The men do not turn, or pause to notice this. Nothing is lost. Nothing that happened cannot be recreated at will. As a matter of fact, each time it is remembered it can be improved upon. The images crystallize, the epiphanies become more pronounced, and deeper. Neither man is finished living it, or will finish living it as long as the great world—call it rose, book, labyrinth, or any name you choose— keeps turning.
*It may be that Marshall has brown eyes and wears blue contact lenses at times.
(This story originally appeared in 419 Memoirs & Other Strange Stories (2011) by Michael Canfield, available in ebook form at the usual places.)